Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (80): Freeman’s Journal

You may remember a few posts ago (post 76 ‘Re-defining the task’ https://wp.me/p4SlVj-2sJ ), i suggested we look at the Freeman’s Journal to understand the Sydney Irish community’s response to the unfolding scandal about the Irish orphan ‘girls’ in the late 1850s. Why did they take so long to respond to an 1855 Immigration report condemning the Cork women who had recently arrived by the Lady Kennaway? Two of my earlier posts, 26 and 28, about the ensuing 1858-9 NSW Government enquiry had tried to put that enquiry into context, suggesting we do not accept it at face value. See https://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT or/and https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-28/

The enquiry had morphed into looking at the ‘Earl Grey Irish Female orphan scheme’.

Did anyone take up my invitation to have a go at using that great resource, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/? I’ve only just had a quick dash at it. Here’s an article worth following up that throws light on the Irish community’s response. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/115563278

The article shows how long it took for the Blue Books , that is, the published reports of British Parliamentary committees and royal commissions, to reach Sydney. The ‘tyranny of distance’ had struck again. It was not until 1857 that Governor Denison’s and Immigration Agent H.H. Browne’s condemnation of Irish female immigration became widely known. Or is that too simple? Browne’s report on the alleged scandal associated with the young Irish women from Cork Workhouse who arrived in Port Jackson by the Lady Kennaway in 1855 finished with,

Orphan immigration having been so distasteful to the inhabitants of this colony, the Board did not contemplate the arrival of any fresh drafts of that class of immigrants. This feeling against them still exists, and the Board feel that they should ill perform their duty were they not to bring this fact pointedly under the notice of his Excellency the Governor-General, with a recommendation that instruction be given to the Commissioners not to continue this description of emigration, it being most unsuitable to the requirements of the colony, and, at the same time, distasteful to the majority of people.

Freeman’s Journal, 5 December, 1857, p.2.

The Journal continued to print extracts from the Blue Books, the following from Lord John Russell via the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners to Sir William Denison,

We learn from the report…that the conduct of the young women on the voyage was good; that the care with which they had been selected was apparent…We shall act on this expression of opinion (that is, that of H.H. Browne, which was supported by William Denison, asking for an end to this sort of migration) although we may be permitted to observe that the readiness with which the young women in question obtained situtations, and the wages paid them, are scarcely reconcileable with the statement that they are”most unsuitable” to the wants of the colony.

Freeman’s Journal, ibid.

The author goes on to accuse the Governor-General of acting too hastily in support of the Sydney Immigration Board, and to raise the issue of prejudice against Roman Catholics. Sectarianism was never far from the surface of colonial politics, and beyond.

Without accusing the gentlemen constituting this Board, viz., Messrs. H.H. Browne, Gother G. Mann, and Haynes G. Alleyne, of having been influenced by undue motives in coming to their expressed conclusion, yet, when it is remembered that they are all identified with the modern Church of England party in the colony, it is not unfair to conclude that they suffered themselves, maybe unwittingly, to have been betrayed by their prejudices into the commission of this act of injustice towards a defenceless class, adherents of the ancient faith…

We expect, nay we demand–to use the language of the illustrious O’Connell– for the Irish the right to “a clear stage, and no favour”.

Freeman’s Journal, ibid.

We’ll need to do further research on the Journal and its contributors. Was the author of this article the founder of the Journal, Archdeacon McEncroe, himself? or perhaps it was from Daniel Deniehy? There were plenty of willing contributors at the time. And there were plenty ready to push for a parliamentary enquiry. And soon would do so, through the Celtic Association.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans (79): a few fortuitous finds

In the first half of this year a handful of Macquarie University students developed their research skills and wrote up their findings in a number of Irish Famine orphan histories. I haven’t yet seen the results but look forward to doing so when they become available. It was a difficult time for these interns. Working during the coronavirus pandemic, the scandalous betrayal of university teachers, and being restricted to what was available online cannot have been easy. What i have to offer here, alas, is too late for their endeavours. But i hope it will be useful to someone either now, or in the future.

South Australia

My first offering concerns South Australia. The serendipitous ‘finds’ happened when in the 1980s and 90s i was working on the large influx of Irish women who came to Adelaide in the mid 1850s. The South Australia Government Gazette, ‘Ships Papers’ held in the State Archives at GRG 35/48, ‘Immigration Agent, Letters-in’ at GRG35/43, the ‘Irish ‘girls’ at Clare’ GRG 24/6 2431, were especially useful. I’m sure others have used them to good effect since then. Official Government sources generally spoke well of the young women as did those in places of Irish settlement such as Clare.

Government Gazette 22 November 1849 pp.37-8,

The facts mentioned in the Commissioner’s Report shew that the young females sent from Work-houses have hitherto been of an age to render them useful and independent. Indeed the best evidence to that effect is contained in the very favourable accounts which …you have had occasion to give of the conduct of the Irish Orphans, and of the satisfaction they have givem to their employers“.

But there was also plenty of prejudice against them from the Emigration Department, and Surgeons Superintendent. Which only shows how Surgeons could affect the reputation of these young women in their new home. The Surgeon on the Nugget which arrived in July 1854 said of the prospects for the arrivals on board, “Tolerably good for the good, but little for the semi barbarous pauper Irish girls who have never seen the inside of a house and who know nothing”. Contrast this with the Report of the Surgeon per Royal Albert arriving in Port Adelaide in December 1855. He stated “There is a great outcry, at present, in the colony against Irish immigrants. I am happy to state however, that the Irish single females per “Royal Albert” have nearly all obtained employment. This is, in a great measure, owing to the excellent account i was enabled to give of their conduct during the voyage”.

What struck me in reading through my notes was that there is material here for anyone wishing to write about the ‘collective mentalite’ of young Irish immigrant females. I used this idea many moons ago in my teaching. Is it still a thing? You know what i mean, instead of looking at these young women through ‘official’ male eyes, it is a way of studying their ‘basic habits of mind’ about everything…about the voyage, their immigration experience, their attitude to ordinary, everyday things, their upcoming employment as domestic servants, their sexuality, family life, friendship, “the elemental passages of life”. That kind of thing. There is a lovely essay by Patrick Hutton on this subject in History and Theory, vol. 20, no. 3, October 1981, pp.237-59, for anyone interested. The Surgeon on the Oriental suggested one of the reasons for dissatisfaction with the Irish was “ they are obstinate and will not obey orders and likewise that they know nothing of domestic habits“, that is of their prospective colonial masters and mistresses. Would they be ‘broken’ or acculturated by the need for a job or by the demands of married life, or do you think they remained feisty, rebellious, and independent?

The sheer number of letters coming into the the South Australian Immigration Agent’s office shows how strong were their family bonds, mothers enquiring about their daughters, “…if you would be so kind as to let me know did she arrive or die on the voyage …”, this from ‘her distressed friends’ asking about Frances McDowal from Dublin who was in the Destitute Asylum in Adelaide, “considered an imbecile”. Or letters from far afield, from Melbourne, Kiama, and New Zealand, offering to pay their family member’s passage to where they lived, because “she is totally unacquainted in Adelaide”. James Byrnes in 1855 offers ‘when i get an account from them (Honora and Margaret Hogan) I will pay their passage by return of post down to Melburn‘. Or from Theresa Sheehan in Wellington, New Zealand asking about her daughter Mary Ann, “…it is a long time since i left her at home she was only a child” , different family bonds from the ones we readily assume, no? This one is perhaps more familiar, “I take the liberty of writing a few lines to see if you would be so kind as to trouble yourself so much with me as to let me know if i could get any of my brothers or sisters out to me as I should verry much wish to bring them out here to do well…”.

It was merely by chance that i came accross reference to two of the Earl Grey orphans in SAA GRG 35/43 Immigration Agent Letters-in. I’ve mentioned them before, briefly, in blog post 67 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-2e1

Margaret McTagart from Belfast per Roman Emperor

18 May 1857 letter from Arabella McTagart, 3 Patens Lane, Perth Road, Dundee, Scotland.

The girl alluded to is Margaret McTagart from Belfast Workhouse“. In a well written letter Arabella enquires after her sister, “I am very much depressed in mind since i parted with a sister of mine. I understand she arrived to the colony as there had been letters from many who went out in the same ship”. She asks that the Depot “books” be searched to see for her sister ” for emigrants who went out in or about the year 1846…she was not in her native place at the time so “doesn’t know the name of the ship”. I’m presuming, because of the reference to Belfast Workhouse, that Margaret was on board the Roman Emperor, the first ship to Adelaide carrying “Earl Grey” orphans. Dundee was a familiar destination for young women from Ulster, many going there to work in the textile industry.

Bridget Mahony from Fermoy per Elgin

16 July 1855 letter from Margaret Mahony, Cork, asking about her daughter Bridget.

Honble Sir,

I most humbly and respectfully beg leave in the liberty I take of addressing you with these few lines respecting my daughter Bridget Mahony aged 18 years sailed in the Elgin from plymouth to adelaide South Australia at the end of May 1849 and reached the colony in safety on the 11th September following. I your most humble applicant most humbly and respectfully hopes that you will be good enough to take me into your worthy honour’s humane and kind consideration in letting me know when convenient to your worthy honor if my daughter is living or not and also to be pleased to forward to me my daughters address so as to enable me to write to her. Hon Sir , by your complying with your humble applicants most humble request your applicant as in duty bound will pray. Margaret Mahoney widow No.5 Alley Coppingers Lane off Popesquay Cork Ireland.

PS. I, your humble applicant beg leave to acquaint your worthy honor that it was from the Union workhouse of Fermoy in the county of Cork that my daughter was sent from when she was emigrated and I, now resides in my address to your honor.

Margaret’s request was successful in that Matthew Moorhouse replied, 23 October 1855, “Bridget Mahoney was hired from this depot on the 3rd of October 1839 (sic) to Mr Walker shopkeeper Hindmarsh. I know nothing of her since then”.

Mary Healy from Killarney per Elgin and her husband


Buoyed by my find among my notes from the South Australian archives I turned to those I had for Port Phillip. I have not checked to see what is available online. Our archivists do a wonderful job but there is a limit to the hours in a day, and what they can do. I’d need the skills of someone like Kelly Starr to get into the nooks and crannies of whatever is online from the Public Records Office of Victoria. But look, here among my notes I’ve found something about

Bridget Ryan from Drum, Tipperary per Pemberton

There are two letters, one addressed to the Immigration Agent in Port Phillip at VPRS 116/P unit 1 file 51/95. Bridget’s half sister Johanna McGregor is making enquiries about her. It is a beautifully crafted letter from an intelligent woman.

Sydney September 7th 1851

Honorable Sir,

I am directed by the Emigration agent here to write to you concerning my sister. I received a letter a few days ago from my friends at home informing me that my sister arrived here about two years ago but did not mention the name of the ship she sailed out in. I have made all enquiries here for her but can get no intelligence of her, I am greatly disturbed in my mind ever since I received the letter and I hope Sir you will do all in your power to find out has she arrived in your Port. My sisters name is Bridget Ryan or otherwise Conneen. her complexion fair. and her age about 19 or 20 years. We are half sisters and I am not sure which of those two names she may call herself by. The Gentleman of the Emigration Depot wishes that I should hear from you before I Advertise her in the Newspapers. My sister is a native of Ireland County Tipperary Parish of Drum. I cannot answer my mother’s letter until I hear something of my sister as I know it would make her very uneasy to hear that we never met here.

I remain Honorable Sir,

Your Humble servant

Johanna McGregor

that is my husband’s name McGregor.

The other is a Memo communicated to J McGregor 23 September 1851 as follows,

Bridget Ryan arrived at Port Phillip per Ship Pemberton in May 1849.

She was taken out of the Depot by Thomas Hassett, Milkman, living next door to Messrs Bowler & Bennett, Solicitors Collins Street Melbourne. About fourteen months since she married a John Bryan from Carrick O’Loughnane Tipperary and has a son.

Bryan and wife, when last heard of by Hassett, were living with a Mr Fisher Sheepholder of Geelong. A letter addressed to the care of Mr McKern publican of Geelong will find them– or to Thos Hassett, as above, who comes from the same place as the Ryans and Knew them at Home. Bridget Ryan was married from Hassetts house.

Hugh E Childers

Immigration Agent


Sept 19, 1851.

How caring and helpful was that.

Ann Barrow from Mallow was one of Bridget’s shipmates on the Pemberton

I had planned to add a little more, mostly taken from Probate records, obituaries in Trove and the like. But I’ll leave that till another time.

Lockdown might be a good time to relearn some of the poems I used to be able to recite, a lifetime ago

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half light

Thank you Mr Yeats.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (78): my first dip in the water.

I hope this post will be of some interest; it is my first publication about the Famine orphan ‘girls’ that appeared in 1987 in Familia the Journal of what was then the Ulster Historical Foundation. I gather the Foundation still exists. See http://www.ancestryireland.com

There are another sixteen interesting articles in this particular issue including a review of Patrick O’Farrell’s Irish in Australia, Trevor Parkhill on Ulster emigration to Oz, Richard Reid on Irish chain migration, and Desmond Mullan on Father Willie Devine who among many other things was appointed as chaplain to the Australian forces in 1914 by Archbishop Mannix.

You will notice i had already decided on Barefoot and Pregnant? as a title for my work, a title that not everyone has understood. So let me explain once more. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the “Earl Grey Scheme” will know of Surgeon Douglass’s scathing dismissal of the young women in his charge. They were he said “professed public women and barefooted little country beggars”; some of them had had a child, and many were not orphans at all! See my earlier blogposts 43-47, beginning https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-43/

So the first element to my title is a question (note the question mark, Barefoot and Pregnant? How many of you noticed it? How many did not?) I’m simply asking, was Surgeon Douglass right in condemning the Earl Grey workhouse orphans as he did?

Another element, though perhaps not so pertinent for everyone nowadays, stemmed from my being a fan of a number of singers, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, and Joan Armatrading, for example. Do you remember Joan Armatrading’s “Barefoot and Pregnant”? It had particular moment for all the women who were fed up being kept ‘barefoot and pregnant’, and ‘in the kitchen’.

The third interpretation of my title then, and i was hoping people would think about how the title was phrased, that they would ask for themselves, did these Famine orphans come from a society where their choices and opportunities were limited? Would there be greater choices and opportunities for them in Australia? Or would social structures, lack of economic opportunities, and the weight of cultural mores limit what they could do in Australia also? Could they become literate? What chances did they have of going to a university? Could they buy land on their own? Could they pursue a career of their own? Could they vote? Could they sit in parliament? Or were they sent into another confinement (pun intended) by the patriarchal nature of Australian society?

Alas i think i failed with that title.

What follows is the short piece i was urged to write by the then Deputy Keeper of the Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI), Dr Brian Trainor. I had just spent a short period of study-leave among the archives testing out my theories of how to find the Famine orphans among the workhouse records that have survived. It is thanks to Brian Trainor that so many of the Indoor workhouse registers have survived. Without his understanding and agitation many would have ended up in the tip. Sadly, present day politicians and bureaucrats in Australia are allowing our precious records to perish. 21/6/21 Fingers crossed. There may be some last minute funding on the way.

It is a tentative effort, and concerns only the first vessel, the Earl Grey, that arrived in Port Jackson 6 October 1848 . Nowadays thanks to heaps of people, writers, historians, genealogists, family historians, archivists, holders of the public records torch, much more is known about the Irish Famine orphans. One error that struck me in this piece was my inclusion of the Ramillies to Port Adelaide as part of the ‘Earl Grey scheme’. The error carried over to Volume one of my Barefoot. That ship may indeed have carried a number of Irish born workhouse women but they were mostly from Marylebone workhouse in London, not from any Irish workhouse. I remain to be corrected on this.

I hope the reference numbers provided will allow family historians to acquire copies of their ancestor’s stay in the workhouse during that terrible tragedy, the Great Irish Famine. Should they wish to do so. For an up-to-date record of what is known about these young women these days see http://www.irishfaminememorial.org

Bloomsday is upon us.

“…and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans (77): a few more ‘suspects’, and some appeals for help.

Following on from my last blogpost here’s my preliminary search for female orphans by the Subraon, William Stewart and Mohamed Shah (note the alternate spellings). It should give you a small taste of what was involved in identifying the original orphans by the ‘Earl Grey scheme’. It’s basically linkage across as many records you can find. Nowadays, in some respects the internet makes things a lot easier. But not everything is digitized. I began by typing ‘Subraon shipping list 1848’ into a search engine, and was directed to https://www.records.nsw.gov.au

This took me to a shipping list for the Subraon, a ship that arrived in Port Jackson on 12 April 1848; and at page 5, among the single females we find the following young women,

Alicia Ashbridge19cookDublin Orphan InstitutionC of EBoth read and write
Ann Brennan17House servantdittodittoread
Ellen Busby17dodododo
Augusta Cooper17dodododo
Martha Magee18nursemaiddodoBoth
Patience Newcomen17dododoread
Dorcas Newman (see report abt her)19dodododied on the day after the ship arrived
Mary Preston18dododoread
Emma Smith16house servantdodoboth
Mary Sneyd18dododoread
Ellen Stephens17nursemaiddodoboth

Readers will know the Subraon appears elsewhere in my blog. By using the search widget at the bottom of any blogpost you will be alerted to exactly where it is mentioned.

But will that widget take you to the conversation I had a couple of years ago in the Comments on my About page? Scroll down to my exchange with a descendant of Ann Brennan (see above). Debbie Horrocks was in Dublin at the time. I opined that the young women were from Dublin and Cork Foundling Hospitals that had closed earlier, or were just about to do so. (Did i get this idea from Joseph Robins’ The Lost Children, Dublin, 1980? Does anyone have copy?) Debbie found reference to a Dublin Foundling House at 52 Cork Street, Dublin, and a mention of a request for eligible ‘girls’ to go to Australia, dated 21 September 1847. Unfortunately the Archives box with the 1847 correspondence that would confirm this, proved to be unavailable. Yet the Sydney Board of Immigration Enquiry and Report does say the young women were accompanied to Plymouth by a ‘Mr Chanut, the Commissioners’ clerk’. Suggesting the Irish Poor Law Commissioners were involved along with the Imperial government in Britain in a subterfuge ‘trial’ of the so-called Earl Grey scheme…yes?

Over the years i managed to preserve my copy of the Minutes and Proceedings of the Immigration Board at Sydney, respecting certain irregularities which occurred on board the ship “Subraon”, Printed for the use of the Government only, 1848, located in what was at the time, the Archives Office of New South Wales. Mea culpa, i have lost the precise reference to where it may be found. Perhaps someone in the State Records can help us find it again?

Readers will see from the following brief extract something of the shocking abuse that the young Subraon orphans suffered. Given recent events and revelations one wonders how deeply embedded such abuse is in Australian culture.

Births, deaths and marriages

My next foray was into birth, death and marriage records for New South Wales. I started by searching for the marriage records of those with a distinctive name, and then moved on to the others, using as terminal dates, 1848 and 1856 or 1857. New South Wales and Victoria have a world leading system of vital registration that started in 1856 and 1853 respectively. Records before that date are usually early church records. I only found two of those eleven young women who arrived by the Subraon; an Augusta Cooper who married Charles Nayler, 1854, and a Mary Sneyd who married Joseph Smith in 1853! Not very promising.

Assuming we don’t have free access to these records (which i was fortunate to have in the 1980s), what should we do next? Make an appeal via social media and genealogical societies for possible descendants? Check online sources such as Trove for any mention of the young women? Check British Parliamentary Papers and available records in State Archives and State Libraries? Did any of the women appear in court? Or in a Benevolent Asylum? Or should we appeal for help via a blogpost? What happened to them? Were they abandoned once they disembarked? Where did they go?

Port Phillip arrivals

This is where my enquiry faltered. It is easy enough to gain access to the shipping lists in NSW State Records but not so the Melbourne records. One needs to be a member of Ancestry.com for that. The NSW records do not identify which of the single females on board the Wiliam Stewart and the Mahomed Shah were from an orphanage. If as i suspect they were from an Anglican orphanage in Cork we might surmise that on board the Mahomed Shah that arrived in Port Phillip on 5 July 1848 were Eliza Green (15) Nursemaid from Cork, Episcopalian, R&R; Mary Hayes (15) ditto; Maria Norton (14) ditto; Jane Travers (15) ditto; Ellen Travers ditto, and Anne Wikinson(15) ditto. Among BDM records (Victoria’s brilliant system of registration began in 1853) there is a marriage of Jane Travers to Henry Perkins in Kilmore in 1853. Her younger sister (?) Ellen had married Robert Charles Crump in 1852. Whereas for Mary Hayes there are 7 possible marriages for the period 1850-56.

Again assuming there were some ‘girls’ from an Anglican orphanage in Cork on board the William Stewart , can we identify them among 51 single females? There were twelve of them, described as Episcopalian or Church of England and include Mary Byrne (17), Mary Clarke(16), Eliza Cook (17), Johanna Daly (16), Jane Donovan (16), Mary Garvan (16), Jane (19) and Mary (17) Green, Anne Hegarty (16), Julia Peel(16), Jane Thompson (17) and Anne Young (16).

An Appeal

Before going any further i think we should confirm the theory that young women from an Anglican Orphanage, or Foundling Hospital, in Cork were sent out on these two ships. I’m hoping someone in the Public Records Office in Victoria might be able to help. Maybe Christine(?) who helped with the excellent wiki entry below.


Or anyone? Please.

Ethical issues

There is another Appeal I’d like to make. It is to ask anyone working in this area if they have grappled with, and resolved some of the ethical questions involved? The interface between the private and the public can be labyrinthine to negotiate. I’ve touched on this somewhere else in my blog. Now where is it? Scroll down. There were some interesting comments too.

Public historians, family historians and genealogists are well aware of these ethical questions. Here’s a useful diagram from the twittersphere summarising recent online discussion of the kinds of thing we should all recognize. It was put there recently by Julia Laite of Birbeck College, University of London.

Thankyou, public historians.

Finally, may i offer my very best wishes to those students at Macquarie University, PACE interns, currently working on Irish orphan stories. It must be nearing crunch time for your submissions? What do they say in showbiz? Break a leg!

Don’t forget to sign up for the free online mag www.tintean.org.au There is a new issue on the 10th of each month.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans: (76) Redefining the task

Having glanced back over my blog I see what a mish-mash it is. Some of it I’m pleased with. Some of it i’m not.

There is plenty of room for re-thinking what is there. Just a couple of revisions casually spring to mind.

  1. Should i explain in detail the labour intensive background to my orphan family reconstitutions? YeahNah, that’s all water under the bridge.

2. There’s certainly room for more on the 1858-59 New South Wales Parliamentary Report on Irish female immigration which i wrote about, in the following posts,



H.H. Browne and the NSW PARLIAMENT REPORT http://wp.me/p4SlVj-D6,

One might use that wonderful resource, Trove, to explore for instance what the Freeman’s Journal had to say about that particular kerfuffle. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper

Redefining our subject?

3. Most important of all, here is something that should be done, don’t you think, viz. let’s widen our subject to include those who are currently on the margins?

Have you seen any official, contemporary reference to ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’? I suspect it is label of convenience dreamt up by twentieth century historians. Please correct me if i am wrong.

Should we not add to the database at www.irishfaminememorial.org those young women from the remnants of Dublin Foundling Hospitals who were sent in advance of the workhouse scheme, in early 1848? I’m thinking of those who came by the Subraon to Sydney, and by the Mahomed Shah and William Stewart to Melbourne.

There are also those single Irish females who went to Hobart in August and November 1851 by the Beulah and the Calcutta, most of them from counties Cork and Clare. Add another 90 or so by the Louisa in January 1853 who were described as being ‘chiefly from the Irish Unions’. The question is, were these young women from Irish workhouses? To say that they came from Irish Poor Law Unions is not to say they were in a workhouse.

In Western Australia we definitely have 33 young women from MountBellew workhouse in Galway who arrived by the Palestine in 1853. They currently have a facebook page, and lots of interest in Galway itself. Were there others?

And finally, the 159 single Irish females who arrived in Port Jackson by the Lady Kennaway in December 1854. They were to become the butt of Immigration Agent Browne’s scorn, and complaint. See https://www.records.nsw.gov.au

Click on the 1850s and scroll down till December 1854, and the shipping list for the Lady Kennaway.

I think that that widening of the net is manageable.

But where my head and my heart is heading, is towards an even larger subject viz. Irish Famine women to Australia. That would include, for example, the ones identified in my 2013 talk, which you can find in my blog here,

 Irish Famine women : a challenge or three+ http://wp.me/p4SlVj-Ut

Or the edited version in the online magazine Tinteán https://tintean.org.au/2014/03/06/irish-famine-women-a-challenge-or-three/

Our subject would then include Irish convict women to Hobart 1847-53, the large numbers of single females who arrived in Adelaide in the 1850s, and the many others who came to Australia as single females but as part of a larger family strategy. Anything or anyone else you can think of?

I’m genuinely interested in your views. What should be the limits of our subject for anyone working in this area? How should it be defined? Please add your comments for others to see.

(75): “Criminal” women again


Bridget Magee found guilty of infanticide

T. ‘Hi Kirsty,

How’s it going? Did you meet your new supervisor yet’?

K. ‘Yes thanks, Dr Mac. I hope you don’t mind me calling in; I’ve known you for a while, and can talk to you easily. You know you mentioned before that women weren’t found guilty of capital crimes anywhere near as frequently as men. That Ellen Thomson case you mentioned last time we met is very interesting. What a speech she gave on the gallows. However, I’ve found that infanticide was a felony that carried the death sentence, and it’s one where women figure prominently.

I’ve been reading some secondary sources, Constance Backhouse and Judith Allen, and both mention how common infanticide was in Canada and Australia towards the end of the nineteenth century. Backhouse says infanticide was a common feature of life,

the bodies of newborn infants were frequently discovered inside hollow trees, buried in the snow, floating in rivers, at the bottom of wells, under floorboards, under the platform of railway stations, in ditches, in privies, in stove pipes, and in pails of water” (Backhouse, Petticoats and Prejudice, p.113).

And Judith Allen talks about how common it was in Oz at the time of the ‘Baby Farmers’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing numbers of unidentified babies taken to Sydney city morgues, 107 1881-89, 154 1890-99, and 242 1900-09. Yet emphasizes how infrequently mothers were brought to trial and rarely punished with the full force of the law.

I was wondering about the Irish Famine orphans. One would think their being without a strong support network, without kin, without friends, innocent in the ways of the world, not very educated, having little money and being dependent on their job as domestic servant, isolated, and working long hours, made them vulnerable to the advances of the males in their household. So…may I ask, were any of the Irish Famine orphans accused of infanticide? Were any of them found guilty of that crime, and if so, what happened to them’?

T. ‘Sorry Kirsty. I don’t know of any. As far as I’m aware none was charged and none was convicted, even of concealment of birth. [yet see Julie Poulter’s comment at the end of this post. Sydney Morning Herald 5 September 1850, p.3].

But this case might interest you. It concerns two sisters from Enniskillen workhouse, Alice and Jane Ball, Alice being the younger of the two. They were about 16 or 17 (ages are always a bit iffy) when they came to Port Phillip by the Diadem in January 1850. Fortunately both Board of Guardian Minute books and Indoor registers for Enniskillen have survived. The two young girls first entered in 1847 shortly after the workhouse was reported as being “in a miserable state of filth and irregularity”. They were both Protestant. Only one had work experience. And they had been living on the Enniskillen Commons.

We also know who first employed them in Melbourne , and on what terms. Sadly we next meet Alice in the Argus newspaper, 26 April, 1850, 29 April and again on the first of May. The newspaper entries concern the report of an inquest on Alice; she had drowned herself in the River Yarra. “There were some men on the bank of the river who threw reins to her, but she would not lay hold of them”. One of the witnesses, James Craig “deposed…Mrs Brown (in whose service the deceased was) told him she had gone to destroy herself, and that the deceased and her husband had been too intimate, and she (deceased) was in the family way…”. See page 2 cols.3 and 4 of’


K. ‘Oh my gosh. How terrible. Poor Alice. Where did she get all that shame and guilt, so powerful to make her take her own life, even when the horse reins were thrown to her? Where does all that come from? Was it social control? Religious belief? It’s an ethos that says sex is dirty and sinful, that mothers who have children outside wedlock will be denied forgiveness and love. They will be punished, forget the fathers, make the mothers pay, and most despicable of all, punish the little children. Deprive them of love, neglect them, fail to nourish them. It is a slaughter of the innocents. You are starting off along the road to the Magdalen laundries, the Tuam babies and the dreadful infant mortality at the Bessborough Children’s home. Sorry. Excuse my rant. It makes me angry. I’ve been reading the Mother and Baby Homes report. Australia doesn’t have an innocent history either.

T. ‘I’ll be sure to have a look at that report. To come back to infanticide, may i draw your attention to a poem that appeared in the Bulletin 4 May 1895, ‘Marian’s child’ by John Shaw Neilson, at the time of the Baby Farming scandal? In some measure it is sympathetic towards the mother, her friend Annie, and the baby but his refrain condemns the murderer to hell.

First we thought of the river,

But the body might be found;

And it did not seem so cruel to bury it in the ground.

…I carried it down the garden

The moon was bright outside.

…down at the foot of the garden,

Where the moon-made shadows fell,

I sold myself to the Devil

And bought a home in hell.

It is certainly an emotionally charged subject. Even today there are plenty of people who see things in black and white, and are very judgemental. The law itself i think was more ambivalent. It wasn’t always easy to establish a baby was born alive, and to have incontrovertible evidence about its murder. In the cases I’ve looked at, not counting the Baby farming ones, there is rarely a death sentence acted upon. The “Mercy” option was always there. You are welcome to have a look at my notes, Kirsty. There are quite a few. The cases are usually Irish-Australian ones and no doubt you’ll want to cast your net wider, test for yourself if the law tended to be merciful towards women who ‘concealed a birth’ or who committed infanticide. And look too at what changes occurred over time.

From PROV VPRS 264/8 The daughter heard the couple speaking Irish

Mental Health issues

One last thing, I’d love to hear if you come across any cases where due weight is given to the mental state of the mother, where the law has recognised the hormonal mayhem that sometimes accompanies a birth, or recognised the effects of post partum blues, and how depression and anxiety can really mess with your brain. I’m not aware of any such cases in the nineteenth century myself; it doesn’t mean they are not there. That sort of argument about diminished responsibility is sometimes found in defence lawyers’ submissions, no? But did their arguments swing the verdict? That’s another matter. In Alice Ball’s case the jury found that she ‘threw herself in the river while in a state of great mental excitement’. You’d think if they can do that for a case of suicide, they could do it for infanticide.

We really should talk to a lawyer or a legal historian, don’t you think’?

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (74): “Criminal” women

“Gosh Kirsty, long time no see. How have you been? What happened”?

“Trev, I’m really sorry not to have been in touch. I’ve been having a hard time in Iso. I needed to see someone about my mental health, and thankfully found the right person to help me. Only last week she prescribed some meds that i’m still getting used to. Seriously, though, I don’t want to abandon my research, even if any kind of academic future for me is out of the question.

“Ok. I very much agree with you: early career prospects are not looking good for anyone in the humanities at present. If you want to talk about this sometime, we can do so. But just for now, if you want to continue with your research, hoping things will improve eventually, you might have a look at a couple of my blogposts , that is, if you want to pursue the question, how many Earl Grey orphans came before the courts? Ten per cent? fifteen ? More? What do you think? Is this worth doing?

One of the posts is called ‘Miss D. Meanors’


And the other is ‘More court cases’. Some of the problems I have with the topic, i mention briefly at the end of this second one. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-25B

You will notice in these posts how i am indebted to a young researcher, Julie Poulter. Maybe approach Julie to ask her about her project, ‘Orphans on the streets of Sydney’. She has a new website, http://www.quirkycharacters.com.au

That is the best way to get hold of her. You might like to ask her about her methods, and how she confirms it is Earl Grey orphans she’s found in the records.

But to begin, let me recap the rich detail of Victorian records. Here are a couple of examples, and problems.

The examples are taken from PROV VPRS 516 Central Register of Female Prisoners (in Melbourne gaol) and PROV VPRS 521 Register of names, Particulars, and descriptions of prisoners received (in Melbourne women’s prison).

From exhibition in Pentridge c. 2002(?)

PROV is so good these days, researchers can work with many of these records online, establish cross linkages, and prepare beforehand a visit to the records themselves, in North Melbourne, when that becomes possible.

This is just a random selection from,

VPRS 516 Unit 1 (1855-61) Register of female prisoners

Number 34 Annette Skipper born 1831 Ireland per Panama to Sydney 1949 Free married 3 children

82 Margaret Walker b. 1823 Ireland per Lady Kennaway 1848 Free married

115 Mary Ann Bourke, Mary Farrell, Eliza Turner, Eliza Tyrell, Mary Tyrell b. 1823 Dublin per Roman Empress to Adelaide 1848

231 Elizabeth Maher/ Mair b.1832 Clonmell per Lady Kennaway 1848 free widow

454 Sarah Berry b. 1833 Ireland per Diadem free widow

Unit 2

624 Alice Fitzgerald/ Alice Ryan b. 1832 Ireland per Eliza Caroline to Melbourne 1848 free married

886 Margaret Jones 1832 Ireland per Pemberton to Melbourne 1848 free married.

937 Kate Strahan b 1835 Ireland per Diadem to Melbourne 1849, husband in Pentridge.

From Melbourne prison exhibition c. 2002(?)

And from VPRS 521 vol. 1, 1853-57, Register of names, particulars and description of female prisoners. Please note a physical description is provided.

No. 129 October 1854 Amelia Nott New Liverpool 1849 born 1827 Free 3 convictions drunk of slender build fresh complexion dark brown hair grey eyes neither read nor write two small scars on the bridge of her nose born Jersey married servant 20 October for medical treatment.

Amelia was a frequent visitor to the Melbourne women’s prison. She is there again in February 1855 , number 291 and again no. 295 as Amelia Knott with added detail of her height 5 foot one inch with a front upper tooth decayed, this time fined 20 shillings or 24 hours incarceration.

At number 334 she is described as a habitual drunkard, and at 472 she says she arrived by the New Liverpool arriving in 1850. She is there again at numbers 597 and 601, 883, 916, 1009, 1125, recording she had eleven previous convictions and her sentence increasing in severity, 3 calendar months 10 December 1855 to 10 March 1856.

Or Julia Driscoll 402 per Eliza Caroline 1848 born 1834, five foot five and a half inches, stout, fresh dark brown hair grey eyes neither read nor write slight scar top of nose Cork RC married felony for trial sent to Police Office April 1855.

She appears again at 412 , for stealing a shawl and is sent to prison for a month.

Or Julia Connolly per Eliza Caroline 1849 b. 1835 one previous 5’6” slight brown hair blue eyes neither read nor write Ireland Catholic married imprisoned for one calendar month no means of support.

Or in the next volume, no. 701 Bridget Allen per Pemberton 1851 b. 1932 7 previous 5’2” stout sallow brown hair grey eyes non literate Ireland Protestant married Williamstown to be kept lunacy 10 October 1857 sent to Yarra Bend 1 April 1858.

There are literally hundreds of such cases in Victorian prison records, of women found guilty of minor crimes, drunk and disorderly, without visible means of support, idle and disorderly, obscene language and the like. And despite the names of orphan ships appearing regularly, their date of arrival is rarely accurate. Did they forget or were some of them former convicts from Van Diemen’s land trying to pass themselves off as orphans. Many of them are married. Does that mean we will find them in early church records, or by ‘marriage’ do the the women mean common law marriage?

It seems to me that is a tough challenge. To establish that these women prisoners in Melbourne gaol in the 1850s, were in fact Earl Grey famine orphans is a formidable, even thankless, task”.

“I’m so glad you brought that up Trevor. I’ve been thinking the same; I’d be spending so much time and getting such a small return for my efforts. Maybe i would find the percentage of orphans was greater than the 10% most people suggest, maybe not. No big ting.

I’m still not sure how to to tell you what I’ve been thinking. I’m very interested in the research papers and notes you gave me on ‘Irish women before the law’ and wondered if i should do my thesis on that. I’ve jotted down a few things, basically focussing on one particular example to illuminate the ‘crime’ i had in mind. Here then are my first thoughts,

Mt Rennie and rape, NSW:

Johanna Sullivan, infanticide, concealment of birth, abortion, South Australia:

Ellen Thompson, murder, Queensland:

Some i haven’t examples for yet,

Inheritance, marriage and divorce:

Misdemeanours, prostitution, vagrancy, drunk and disorderly, petty theft, obscene language:

Activism, women and labour legislation, women and the vote. When are women ‘allowed’ to become lawyers Do you know?

My worry is that i have no training in the law, and little knowledge of the law in colonial Australia”.

“Same here, Kirsty. But when did that stop anyone? Let me ask around to see if there is someone who can help. Being interested and excited by your research project is very important”.

From Old Melbourne Gaol exhibition c. 2002(?)

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (73): Addendum, South Australia.

South Australia, some additional material.

 I have just found some more of my research on the orphans sent to South Australia.  You may remember from earlier posts that the Imperial authorities in Britain, recognizing the difference between the colonies, dealt with South Australia separately from New South Wales.  See for example my posts 13 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-13 and 16 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-16

It looks like my newly surfaced folder consists mainly of British Parliamentary Paper photocopies, and my notes from South Australian archives. A quick glance shows nothing particularly new, just a lot more detail. If you want to search for yourself, your State Library should have copies of the Irish University Press 1,000 volume edition of British Parliamentary Papers. See BPP Colonies Australia vols.11-13. Volume 11 covers Sessions 1849-50, and volume 13 Sessions 1851-2.

You may be able to find the same records online via http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/ or via Trove. Trove, for instance, has put up all the records from AJCP (Australian Joint Copying Project) https://trove.nla.gov.au/result?q=AJCP

Good luck with your search.

It sometimes is forgotten that South Australia dealt independently and directly with the Imperial authorities in Britain. Governor Robe (1845-48) may have been in favour of receiving female orphans from Irish workhouses but his successor Governor Young easily gave way to pressure from locals wanting to end the scheme. Support was only ever reluctant anyway. In reality, Adelaide’s trajectory regarding the Irish workhouse orphans was much the same as Sydney and Melbourne. Though it must be said they were usually quicker off the mark with their initiatives,

such as,

lobbying for an equal, or rather ‘appropriate’, number of ‘young lassies’ from England and Scotland:

registering the complaints from Surgeons on board the orphan ships about their difficulties in dealing with these young women:

“…they were governed by their passions and impulses hence I experienced much difficulty in preventing moral degradation and in establishing and preserving good order”.

SAA GRG 24/6 1848/1763, Col. Secy. Letters received, Eades to Munday, 25 October 1848

showing concern for the interference from the local self-appointed guardians of public morals, who described the ‘Government Location’ (Adelaide depot) as a ‘ Government Brothel’ and whose gossip about the unhygienic or dirty habits or rowdy behaviour of the Irish orphans spread like wild fire in such a small place.

“I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted “.

The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, p.3.


South Australia differed from the others in deciding it was inexpedient, or too expensive to apply, and police, their newly enacted arrangements for employing the Irish orphans. Thus leaving themselves open to the young women working the system, returning to the Adelaide depot more frequently than might have been the case otherwise. Given that we are talking about a relatively small number of orphans, it astonishes the modern reader to find so much paper, and so many enquiries generated by the Earl Grey scheme.

Adelaide from the South East c.1849 courtesy State Library New South WalesAdelaide 1849a

Continue reading

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (72): Mental Asylums

Woogaroo Asylum was built at Wacol, Queensland in 1865

Let me continue with the fiction I created last time, a researcher wishing to find out more about the Irish workhouse orphans who went into institutional ‘care’ in Australia. This time, I’ll suggest we search for orphans who went into mental hospitals, whether in Fremantle, Sunbury, Woogaroo, Ararat, Yarra Bend, Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, Callan Park, Goodna, Gladesville, Ballarat, or wherever. It won’t be an easy task.

In these days of ‘quarantino’ Kirsty and myself shall communicate via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. I told her ‘ Kirsty, there is no easy access to secondary sources, or to some of the people you need to meet. Neither is there access to the very rich archive of different Mental Hospitals across the country. None of this has been digitised as far as i know. Even at the best of times you may not have access to these records. When I did a teeny bit of work in this area some years ago, most Victorian records were on open access; NSW records had the rider that one should be careful not to hurt anyone; and Queensland records sometimes were available, sometimes not. I’m not sure what the position is with regards to West Australia and South Australia or Tasmania. I’d love to think these records are readily available. I believe the healthy option is to be up front and open about mental illness, yet always careful of an individual’s needs. Not everyone agrees with that.

‘I have a number of books on my shelves’, says Kirsty, “hysteria is the dis-ease of women in a patriarchal culture“, according to Claire Kahane. ‘That and other interpretations of the history of insanity will be worth pursuing if you decide to pursue this further’, said I. ‘It could be a very large subject. The sheer size of original sources, never mind secondary ones, is daunting. Here are a couple of examples from case histories which by law, these institutions were required to keep. [For example, 1845 Act for the regulation and care and treatment of lunatics, 8 and 9 Vic . c. 100].

“Although the Big House was not hell for everybody, it was definitely limbo for most poor souls”. (Hanna Greally, Bird’s Nest Soup, 1971)

The following case is from Woogaroo which later became  Goodna and then Wollston Park Mental Hospital in Queensland.

Ellen (I’ll not mention her second name) 23 y.o single, domestic servant from Co. Clare Ireland residing Ipswich RC suffering from melancholia…readmitted 25 Jan 1871 (thenceforward there are yearly notes 1871-1898) eg. March 24 1884 sometimes makes an extraordinary noise between a screech and a croak while she is at workMarch 1885 industrious in laundry but when at home sits with folded arms and her hat down over her eyes“. Ellen suffered from ‘religious mania’.

‘With this kind of detail in the records, surely we can find Earl Grey orphans who went into these institutions, when the time comes’ says Kirsty?

‘Do you think we can’? I replied. ‘I never went through these records searching for orphans in any systematic way. One would need to know the young women’s marital history in great detail, including their common law marriages, and know about all the uncertainties relating to their age, place of origin, who provided the information to the authorities, and the like. Anyway, here’s the handful of examples I happened across. I’ll start with the Port Phillip examples’.

Bridget Ferry and Eliza Armstrong

A while ago, in blogpost 54, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-54-skibbereen-and-beyond-cont/ i drew readers’ attention to Professor Malcolm’s important work on Yarra Bend Asylum where she identified two Port Phillip orphans, Bridget Ferry per Lady Kennaway, and Elizabeth Armstrong per Diadem. [Or should it be Derwent]? I happened to come across these two cases myself.

From the Lady Kennaway shipping list we know that Bridget was a 14 year old nurse from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, RC, who could neither read nor write and who brought with her a prayer book and testament. In the record above she is described as a ‘congenital idiot’.

Eliza Armstrong per Diadem was a 16 yo Anglican from Enniskillen, Fermanagh who had entered the workhouse without any fixed address. She was described in the Yarra Bend record as suffering from paralysis and dementia.

Interestingly I recorded in my own notes (VPRS 7417/P1/1A p.88, at number 37) Eliza Armstrong, from the Colonial Surgeon’s Hospital, 17 yo pauper per Derwent 1850. There was a Bessy Armstrong on board the Derwent who hailed from Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. And to complicate matters even further, there also was an Eliza Armstrong admitted to Yarra Bend 26 October 1848 (before the official arrival of any of the Earl Grey orphans). She was described as suffering from chronic dementia, dangerous, and being ‘not in a good state of bodily health’. That poor woman stayed in Yarra Bend for 64 years until she died in 1912.

Professor Malcolm tells us both our orphans, Bridget and Eliza, were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in Yarra Bend Asylum, suggesting the young women may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”. But you will notice how tricky it is to confirm we have found an Earl Grey orphan in the Mental Asylum records. The next couple of cases did not end up in an asylum but they so easily could have done so.

Margaret Gorman from Donegal Union per Lady Kennaway

This 15 year old was described  by the Port Phillip authorities as an ‘imbecile’ who suffered from fits. She would most likely have ended up in an asylum, perhaps even a mental asylum, had it not been for the Chief Matron, Mrs Ensor.

Have a look at my blog post 35, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-35/ and scroll down to item 50/93, to a  letter dated 20 /3/1850. There is information there from Irish authorities defending their sending Margaret to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme. They eventually found that information about her being subject to fits had been ‘carefully kept from Captain Herbert, Lieutenant Henry, and the Medical Officer’ of the workhouse. 

Thanks to the inimitable Kelly Starr who is a whiz at finding what’s available online, we know that Mrs Ensor came to the rescue. Kelly provided the link to VPRS19 Inward Registered Correspondence regarding the return of Margaret Gorman to the Immigration Depot. http://access.prov.vic.gov.au/public/component/daPublicBaseContainer?component=daViewRecord&entityId=090fe2738249e434

The letter from James Patterson to the Superintendent recommends, and i quote, “Mrs Ensor will take charge of this orphan for a period of twelve months, and will feed and clothe her and endeavour to instruct her so that she may be able to go into service” “in return for a small remuneration”. As Kelly says,’Thank Goodness for kindly Mrs Ensor’.


Anne Muldoon from Ballyshannon workhouse  per Inchinnan

For information about Anne I am indebted to Brian Harris. See her story in Brian’s brilliant blog, ‘From Prisons and Poorhouses’,


Anne committed suicide in September 1872  ‘throwing herself into a well whilst being of unsound mind’.


Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon per Thomas Arbuthnot

You may have met Ellen before, in the previous post on Benevolent Asylums, as Ellen Hickson, and more of her story in my blog post 9 under ‘A Hard Life’.


We know Ellen was in a mental hospital, only because she told the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum that she spent some time in Goodna. Imagine looking for her using the names of her six husbands, Jones, Stanley, Heffernan, Dwyer, Munro, Hickson.  It appears that Ellen too may have used the Asylum ‘to escape from intolerable living conditions’.


Ellen Brady or Brodie from Kilrush per Pemberton

Dr McIntyre recentlyreminded me of this case from my Barefoot. The information originally came from Ellen’s descendant. Ellen married John Wall in Geelong in 1852 and had five children with him. The family later moved to Batesford and Dean but by 1867 Ellen was in Ararat Hospital. That is where she died, in January 1883.


Kirsty asked. ‘Did you find out what happened to Bridget Ferry, Eliza Armstrong and Margaret Gorman? Maybe they went back into an institution later in life’.

‘Good point’ i said, ‘No, i haven’t. Linking diverse records is crucial to this study. Births, deaths, marriages, Hospital records, Prison records, they can lead us to our orphans in Mental Asylum records’.

‘I’m worried’, says Kirsty, ‘There are only three mentioned here who actually went into an asylum. The subject looks overwhelming. Do i begin by going back to Foucault, Freud, Elaine Showalter and the rest? Those case histories you showed me are so sad. Why did these immigrant Irish women end up in an asylum? I read an essay by the late Sister Mary MacGinley where she argued that family standing was what bestowed status, and it’s among Irish families of standing we find the climbers, those determined to establish themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, are the vulnerable ones, and i would assume she includes here immigrant women who lacked a strong support network,  or who couldn’t cope with their intolerable living conditions, such as abuse by their husband, postpartum depression, poverty, intemperance, vagrancy, abandonment, and other hardships’.

“That’s good’, i said. ‘You are already thinking about what you said last time; it’s not about numbers, it’s about exploring the underbelly of colonial society, or something to that effect. Let’s first try and find a few more orphans who went into a mental asylum, and then we’ll see where we go from there.Were they more likely to go into such an institution in their old age, for example’?

Parramatta womens asylum c1890a

Women Residents in the Newington Asylum c. 1890. From the State Library of NSW Picture Collection SPF/1170


Postscript: I almost forgot. Jaki McCarrick has an interesting piece about her play ‘Belfast Girls’ in the April edition of tintean.org.au

There are other interesting articles there also.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans (71); Asylums

And another thing…

Reading the excellent series of orphan stories, written by descendants, in the free online magazine tintean.org.au has reminded me of something else we need to do: that is, make a thorough search for those orphans who spent time in an institution in Australia, whether it be prison, a Benevolent asylum, a mental hospital, an Industrial school, a Lying-In hospital, or an asylum for destitute children. [ Should we widen the search to include the orphans’ children] ?

I’ve said before the numbers involved were not large, probably only ten percent of the whole. That is a familiar gut-reaction. But it is a gut reaction: we shouldn’t make up our minds and prejudice the results of our research before it is complete. It is becoming easier to do that research as more and more primary sources are digitised, and made available online. Trove is the obvious example. There are others. See http://www.geelonginfirmary.net/how_to_use.htm

or https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/node/1561/browse

But that search for ‘Irish orphans in Asylums’ is still a daunting project, one that may require a team of researchers, especially if the intention is to cover the whole of Australia. If a student came to me with such a project proposal, I would ask him or her, ‘is it do-able? Show me how’. The student might reply, ‘it’s not about numbers. Sure, there will be records that haven’t survived. It’s more than that. It’s about digging deeper; it’s about truth-telling; it’s about discovering the darker side of Australian life some of these Irish orphans endured.’

Benevolent Asylum Dunwich records

Note how informative these records can be. But they don’t always allow us to identify our Irish orphan ‘girls’.

No 89 Ellen Flynn or Cunningham admitted 21 August 1879 from Toowoomba Hospital having lost her sight for the last six months. She was from King’s County, Ireland, daughter of John Dooley, a farmer. She was Roman Catholic, could read and write, and married John Flynn at Wollongong when she was 17 and he, 23. Her husband was a Lockup Keeper at Tenterfield. He died about thirteen years ago. She had seven children alive, three were in Tenterfield, two in Roma, two in Warwick. Two girls had died. She came to Sydney with friends as an immigrant per Tippoo Saib about 1855. She lived in New South Wales for many years. Her husband was 12 years in the Police.

Now is this the orphan Ellen Dooley who arrived by the Tippoo Saib in 1850? The information so far accords with the information provided by Ellen’s descendant, Ann Faraday, for my Barefoot volume 2. Ann had no record of Ellen after 1861.

This Ellen married again in 1885 to Michael Cunningham, himself an inmate of Dunwich. The Register records her frequent stays in the Benevolent Asylum and when she was absent on leave, from 1887 to her death 16 September 1898.

No 259 Eliza Scholes admitted October 10th 1889 from Brisbane Hospital suffering from rheumatism. She was from Belfast, Ireland, a domestic servant, Church of England, could read and write, daughter of Anthony Rodgers, engraver, and Jane Harver. [Now you would need to know that an Eliza Rogers daughter of Anthony and Jane was one of the infamous Belfast girls on board the Earl Grey who were banished directly to Moreton Bay in 1848.] Eliza said she was married in Brisbane at age 14 to Charles J. Worth (dead) and at age 42 in Sydney to Jacob Scholes (address unknown, last heard of in Victoria), 7 children by her first marriage. Addresses unknown all in Queensland…No property, no cash. She was last seen by the Medical Superintendent Nov. 21 1894. She died and was buried a day later 22 Nov. 1894. [Eliza Scholes was an inmate of Toowoomba Women’s prison serving three months for vagrancy in 1888, and six months, early in 1889].

NO 453 Ellen Agnes Hickson admitted October 29 1895 from Goodna Asylum, daughter of John Leyden, farmer and Mary Cronin. [This is another orphan who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. She has appeared already at the end of my post about “Some Sad Stories” https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-9/ Once again you will need prior knowledge to recognise Ellen as one of the Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans].

No 498 Mary Clark admitted 19 January 1897. She was from the Brisbane Depot suffering from a bad leg. She was from Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, could read, daughter of Charles Murray, a leather cutter, and Mary Donnelly. She married twice, first to William Campbell when she was 26 at Armadale (sic), NSW, and second, to John Edward Clark when she was 34, also at Armadale. She had four children by her first marriage, three of whom lived at an address unknown,. The fourth, Charlotte Campbell was married to H. Lambourne in South Melbourne. ‘Came to Australia 49 years ago by Ship Roman Emperor landed at Adelaide S. A. stayed there 18 years, went to N.S.W, lived there 15 years then came to Brisbane and staid (sic) there ever since.

Last 2 years at Brisbane working and assisted by the Benevolent Societies and Government, and at Brisbane Depot’. The giveaway here allowing us to identify Mary as one of the orphan ‘girls’, is the name of her ship and the date and place of its arrival.


No 506 Ann Gregory admitted 16 March 1897, born in Boyle, Ireland, a housewife and ladies’ nurse, can read and write, daughter of Andrew Heggerty and Salina Reynolds. [Ann Haggerty arrived in Sydney with her sister Catherine, the daughters of Andrew and Sarah, both dead, from Boyle, Roscommon, by the Digby in 1849. Both had their indentures cancelled in the Sydney Water Police Office and sent to Moreton Bay]. Ann married John Gregory when she was 18, in Brisbane. According to the information she gave the Benevolent Asylum, she came to Australia in 1848 and landed in Brisbane, She had lived in Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Brisbane, and had no money and no property. She died 30 May 1900.

No 549 Eliza Dwyer admitted May 4 1898 from Brisbane suffering from bronchitis, born Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, housewife, can read and write, daughter of John Frazer, Bootmaker, and Margaret Gallagher, married Edward Dwyer when 20yo at Brisbane, husband dead 4 years, 5 children alive, one dead, has information about the other 4, came to Australia 50 years ago, landed Moreton Bay, been in Brisbane ever since as nurse and housework etc, last 2 years living with daughter Ipswich Road. No property, no money. Last seen by Medical Superintendent 1 December 1903, died 2 December 1903, buried 3 December 1903. [Eliza Frazer was one of the “Belfast girls” on board the Earl Grey, sent directly to Moreton Bay by Surgeon Douglass].

Ellen Dooley, Eliza Rogers, Ellen Leyden or Lydon, Mary Murray, Ann Haggerty and Eliza Frazer were all ‘Earl Grey Irish workhouse orphans’.

‘There are even two women in the Register who arrived by the James Pattinson the vessel that brought young Irish women to Sydney in 1836; Susan Gillan from Mountmellick, daughter of Edward Finlay and Mary Keogh, and Jane Richards nee Turkington’, i said to the student.

‘The project is a goer’, says my student. ‘I’ll need to look at the Registers again to see if there are some you’ve missed. Trove will also open up more information i’m sure. I certainly won’t leave anyone in limbo. There is a lot i can do. I’ve already had a look at a doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland. Dr Goodall says Dunwich was far from the ideal retreat some contemporaries claimed it was. ‘Inmates quickly developed institutional behaviours…they were subject to overcrowding, senseless regimentation, little or no recreational opportunities…infantilisation and poor quality and unappetising food, he says’.

It doesn’t sound like they had a good quality of life in the end. And look how many Irish women go there towards the end of their life.

It will be interesting to see what Benevolent Asylum records in Sydney and Melbourne throw up. I’ll have to get permission to gain access to some of those particular records, won’t I.’

‘Are you thinking of narrowing down your project already’? i answered. ‘What about the orphans who went to gaol, or into a mental asylum? Maybe we should talk about this next time’.